Toolkit For New Medical Writers


Medical Writing as a Career
Opportunities in Scientific Medical Writing
Opportunities in Non-Scientific Medical Writing
Characteristics of Successful Medical Writers
Getting Started
Learning About Medical Writing
How to Become a Medical Writer
Employee or Freelance?
American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
Print Resources
Medical Communications Programs

Medical communication is a great career! If you're interested in being a medical writer or editor, you've come to the right place. AMWA brings together writers, editors, educators, and other communicators working in all areas of health and medicine. We have the resources to help you "plant" and nurture your career.

Medical Writing as a Career  (top)

What do medical communicators do?
Medical communicators may be writers, editors, proofreaders, supervisors, project managers, media relations specialists, educators, and more! As part of their jobs, writers and editors may also do research, statistical analysis, publication layout and design, or fact-checking.

Are there different types of Medical Writers?
Medical writing is a diverse profession. The specific tasks that medical writers perform and the projects on which they work can differ greatly, depending on a person's training, experience, and work setting. For simplicity, medical writing can be broadly classified into two types: scientific and non-scientific.

Scientific medical writers generally work on communications projects for professional medical or scientific audiences, sometimes in very specialized content areas. Many (though not all) of these writers have advanced degrees in a basic or clinical science area.

Non-scientific medical writers generally work on communications projects with less technical content, such as health and medical articles for newspapers or magazines, patient education materials, or marketing products. These writers may write for professional or lay audiences. Many (though not all) have a degree in journalism, English, communications, or a related discipline. They often learn about medicine by becoming a medical writer.

Scientific and non-scientific medical writing are usually two distinct career tracks, especially when you're getting started. Some people do both types of medical writing. It is more common for established medical writers, than for new medical writers, to do both types of medical writing.

Good career opportunities exist for both scientific and non-scientific medical writers.


Opportunities in Scientific Medical Writing   (top)

Types of projects on which scientific medical writers work include:

  • Abstracts and posters for medical conferences
  • Advertising copy for pharmaceuticals and other products
  • Advisory board summaries
  • Books
  • Editing (including substantive editing, proofreading, and fact checking)
  • Journal abstracts
  • Managed market training
  • Medical education materials, including continuing medical education needs assessments and programs, physician and medical science liaison training, and patient education (including web-based interactive educational programs)
  • Monographs
  • Multimedia projects
  • Pharmaceutical marketing and advertising
  • Physician speeches and presentations
  • Practice management materials
  • Proposal writing
  • Regulatory documents (including clinical trial reports, Common Technical Documentation, integrated summaries of efficacy and safety, investigator brochures, Investigational New Drug documents, New Drug Application submissions, protocols)
  • Sales training materials including e-learning modules
  • Slide presentations and kits
  • Scripts for DVD and other multimedia and Web-based formats
  • Web content
  • White paper

Sample jobs for scientific medical writers (from the American Medical Writers Association's Job market, available to members through the Members Only section of the Web site) include:

  • Medical writer/senior medical writer for a biopharmaceutial company: To write, edit, and coordinate team review of clinical regulatory documents for submission to regulatory health authorities and manuscripts based on these data for publication or presentation.
  • Editorial director for a medical communications and marketing agency: To manage development of promotional materials for clients, including leading a team of medical writers and editors.
  • CME medical director, needs assessments for a medical education/publishing company: To conduct gap analyses and write corresponding needs assessments.
  • Regulatory writer for a provider of medical writing solutions: To write regulatory submissions for respiratory disorder indications.
  • Director of scientific communications for a biopharmaceutial company: To manage communication of key scientific/clinical information for products within specified therapeutic area and build a scientific communications team. Drive strategic publication planning and provide strategic oversight for publication strategy.
  • Medical director (experienced medical writer) for medical information, education, training, and multimedia content development company specializing in Web-based interactive educational programs: To write high-quality scientific copy for a variety of audiences (examples: pharmaceutical sales representatives, physicians, patients) and review copy.
  • Medical writer for medical communications company: To research, write, and edit customized medical communications initiatives (scientific publications, promotional slide decks, meeting reports, and consumer-oriented content).
  • Medical writer for a pharmaceutical company: To write Investigational New Drug (IND) and Institutional Review Board (IRB) documents and final clinical reports, summarize preclinical data, review and edit documents, and compile the elements for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submissions. Also to assist in creating abstracts and manuscripts.

Opportunities in Non-Scientific Medical Writing   (top)

Types of projects on which non-scientific medical writers work include:

  • Advertising copy
  • Books
  • Brochures
  • Competitive research
  • Editing (including substantive editing, proofreading, and fact checking)
  • Executive summaries
  • Magazine articles
  • Marketing materials
  • Medical conference coverage
  • Medical script writing
  • Newsletters
  • Patient advocacy materials
  • Patient education materials
  • Posters
  • Public relations materials (e.g., press releases, backgrounds, and fact sheets)
  • Proposal writing
  • Reporting for newspapers, magazines, Web sites, etc.
  • Sales materials
  • Scripts for DVD and other multimedia and web-based formats
  • Training manuals
  • Web content

Sample jobs for non-scientific medical writers (from the American Medical Writers Association's Job Market, available to members through the Members Only section of the Web site) include:

  • Health writer and editor for an interactive health care agency: To create content for consumers and clinicians.
  • Managing editor for a peer-reviewed medical journal: Edit and revise all types of scientific content written by physician-authors for publication in the journal.
  • Medical copyeditor for medical education agency: To edit, copyedit, proofread, fact check, and style scientific publications, slide kits, meeting materials, and multimedia content.
  • Assistant managing editor for a professional society: To oversee submission and peer-review for the society's journals and provide editorial and administrative support to the editors-in-chief and publications director.
  • Science writer/public information officer for an academic medical center: To write news releases, develop Web content, write articles for newsletter/newspaper, and work with media.
Other sample jobs for non-scientific medical writers (from reputable Web sites) include:

  • Managing director for a major disease association.
  • Web reporter for a health news service.
  • Senior generalist healthcare reporter/researcher for an intelligence service for institutional investors.
  • Public health reporter for a newspaper.
  • Health care reporter for a consulting firm.
Characteristics of Successful Medical Writers   (top)

Although successful medical writers come from many backgrounds, people who excel in the field share certain attributes:

  • Knowledge of medicine or an aptitude for understanding it.
  • Ability to write (most medical writing does not require us to write like Hemingway, but medical writers must be able to write clearly at a level appropriate to the audience and the project).
  • Solid computer skills for writing and doing research.
  • Education: College degree in science, pharmacy, medicine, journalism, English, or other related field. Scientific medical writing generally requires a scientific degree (science, pharmacy, medicine). Non-scientific medical writing generally requires a degree in journalism or English.
  • Deadline orientation.

Characteristics of good medical writing include:

  • Thorough research
  • Accuracy
  • Logical organization
  • Clear thinking and writing
  • Readability

Medical writers must also be aware of ethical considerations and standards in medical writing, including the American Medical Writers Association's Code of Ethics. Learn more about ethics and medical communication.

Getting Started   (top)

One of the best ways to learn the skills needed for a career in medical communication is to join AMWA and participate in national and chapter activities. Read the AMWA Journal, talk to experienced members, and take workshops at AMWA's annual conferences or at any of the many chapter-sponsored conferences that take place throughout the year.

Spend some time on the AMWA website reading about the career and the organization and see where your skills might fit into the profession. Also, become involved with AMWA's LinkedIn Group (open to the public) and pose questions to medical writing experts in the field.

AMWA Collection on Careers in Medical Communication

The AMWA Journal also offers a collection of articles about getting started as a medical writer: "AMWA Collections: Exploring a Career in Medical Communication." You can order this online. This collection was designed to guide people who are just starting out in the field.

Learning About Medical Writing  (top)

The best way to learn about medical writing, build your skills, make useful contacts, and explore career opportunities is by joining the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and getting involved with local and national activities.

You can also pursue other types of informal and formal training.

Informal Medical Writing Training:

  • Read medical and pharmaceutical journals.
  • Use Web-based services to follow information about pharmaceutical company pipelines.
  • Study basic textbooks on statistics.
  • Read about the latest drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Study medical terminology online.
  • Purchase and study medical writing dictionaries, style guides, and books on writing (see Resources).
  • Familiarize yourself with FDA guidelines for preparing regulatory documents (See Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations).
  • Keep your computer skills up to date.

Formal Medical Writing Training

  • Take one course in pharmacology and one course in statistics.
  • Complete a program of study in a basic science.
  • Take workshops and enroll in AMWA's continuing education program.
  • Take medical writing courses or enroll in a medical writing program offered through colleges and universities.

How do I become a Medical Writer?  (top)

Medical communicators take different paths to careers in this field.

Until recently, most medical communicators entered the field from other professions such as journalism, medicine, laboratory research, pharmacy, and education. Some of our members have scientific or medical degrees (eg, MD, PharmD, or PhD in a scientific field) and have worked in the health care industry as academisc, bench scientists, physicians, or pharmacists, or in administration and began doing medical communications work. Other members have Journalism or English degrees, work in communications, and end up writing about health and medicine.

However, in the last decade, educational institutions have begun offering degrees and certificates in medical communication. There are certificate programs, degree programs, and college courses in medical writing, health communications, and medical or science journalism available. As a result, more and more graduates will start their careers as medical communicators.


Employee or Freelance?  (top)

Medical writing offers many opportunities for both part- or full-time employees and freelances. Whether to work for an organization or strike out on your own depends upon many factors, including your experience, financial needs, tolerance for risk, need to be around people, ability to sell your services, and personal drive. As an employee, you'll have a steady paycheck, paid vacations, and benefits. As a freelance, you can set your own hours but often work longer than employees, and you must be very focused to succeed. Your cash flow is uneven and your income may not be steady.

Most successful freelances work for years as a medical writer (or at least as a writer) before deciding to freelance. Freelancers work for the same types of organizations and do the same types of work as discussed under Opportunities for Scientific Medical Writers and Opportunities for Non-Scientific Medical Writers. Freelances work for clients by the job (on a project or hourly basis) and also on a contract basis.


American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)  (top)

The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) is the leading professional organization for writers, editors, and other communicators of medical information. If you are interested in any aspect of medical communication, you are eligible to join AMWA, which has members in the US, Canada, and Internationally.

Whatever your career path, AMWA offers the tools you need to break into this field.

Learn more about AMWA's member benefits.
Learn more about AMWA's education program.
Learn more about AMWA's Medical Writing & Communication Conference.


Resources  (top)



General Medical Reference

General Reference

Associations and Societies

Other Web Resources

Print Resources  (top)

A list of print resources for purchase on Amazon can be found in AMWA's Amazon Store

Medical Communications Programs  (top)

Programs offering formal training in medical communication are emerging. Some of these are listed below, along with more traditional programs in health journalism and communication.

Certificate Programs in Medical Communication

American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)

University of Chicago Graham School of General Studies
Medical Writing and Editing Certificate

Drug Information Association

Graduate Programs in Medical/Health Communication/Writing/Journalism

Carnegie Mellon University

Master of Arts/ Professional Writing

Emerson College
Master of Arts in Health Communication

Johns Hopkins University
Master of Arts/Science-Medical Writing

Towson University
Master of Science/Professional Writing

Tufts University School of Medicine
Master of Science in Health Communication

University of the Sciences in Philadelphia
Master of Science/Biomedical Writing

UT Southwestern Medical Center
Master of Arts & Master of Science/Biomedical Communications

Boston University
Online Master of Science in Health Communication
Master of Science/Science & Medical Journalism

University of Illinois
Master of Science in Health Communication

New York University
Master of Arts/Science, Health and Environmental Reporting

Texas A&M University
Master of Science/Science and Technology Journalism

University of Houston-Downtown
Master of Science/Professional Writing and Technical Communication

University of Minnesota
Professional Master of Arts/Health Communication

University of North Carolina
Master's degree/Medical Science & Journalism


Undergraduate Programs in Medical/Health Communication/Writing/Journalism

Juniata College
Degree in Health Communication

Missouri State University
Bachelor of Arts or Science/Professional Writing

North Dakota State University
Bachelor of Arts or Science/Heath Communication

University of Minnesota
Bachelor of Arts/Technical Writing and Communication


Tracks or Minors in Medical Communication

Carnegie Mellon University
Bachelor of Science/Technical Writing and Communication

Ferris State University
Bachelor of Science/Journalism and Technical Communication

Juniata College
Degree in Professional Writing, Science Writing Track

University of Florida
College of Journalism and Communications, Master's Track in Science/Health Communication

Widener University
Minor in Professional Writing

University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Science Communication Program

Degree Programs in Regulatory Affairs

University of Washington School of Pharmacy
Master of Science in Biomedical Regulatory Affairs

George Washington University
Dual Degree: BSHS/MSHS in Clinical Management & Leadership

Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) in Clinical Research Administration 

If you know of other programs in medical writing that do not appear on AMWA's list, please tell us about them.

Special thanks to LoriDeMilto, in consultation with many AMWA Colleagues, for the creation of the original New Medical Writer Toolkit in 1998, and for updating it in 2015.